About the author
RK Narayan brought Indian writing in English to western nations. He was helped in the venture by Graham Greene. Narayan’s stories mostly have the fictional town of Malgudi as their geographical reference point. Malgudi could be anywhere in India. It is a microcosm of the huge country. Even today there are readers who believe that Malgudi exists; so realistically did Narayan describe the place. Narayan’s stories were brief, some barely ten pages long, but within this he was able to delineate complicated characters. Narayan’s style was unpretentious and simple but it had an enduring quality that readers found attractive. Many of his stories have been adapted for movies and television.
The story, The Horse and Two Goats is set in Kiritam, a fictional village somewhere in South India. It is no different from any other village in India. Most of the people are poor and barring one big house, the rest of the houses are all huts. There is one grocery shop where all go. The postman comes around only once in ten days. The village was once upon a time along the road that went towards the town. But when the highway was constructed, the village got pushed further inwards losing what little prominence it had.
Muni is a typical Indian villager who accepts the vicissitudes of life with only murmurs of complaint. He had been at one time rather well in relative terms being the proud owner of a flock of forty sheep but some disease had killed all of them and now he is left with just two scraggly goats. They forage for leaves when Muni takes them to the road. Muni married his wife when they were children. At one time, he was the dominant partner in the marriage because he was well off but now along with his money he has lost his status at home too. He grudgingly acknowledges that his wife manages to feed him by doing odd jobs at the Big House. But for her, he would have starved to death. Muni is so used to seeing the terracotta horse on the road side, he could not have imagined anyone wanting to buy it. The only thing of value for him were his two goats so when the American offers money, he believes it is for the goats.
The American gentleman is on a visit to India as the power outage one hot summer day which caught him without air conditioning and elevator had a chastening effect on him. He decides to visit other civilizations less fortunate and so here he is. As soon as he sees the mud horse beside Muni, he assumes he owns it and starts bargaining for it. Though he is touring India, he does not know anything about the country. Even before he buys the horse, he plans where he will keep the horse in his living room. He is friendly and easy going and has no reservations about talking to a villager.
Themes (major and minor)
The conflict of cultures is a theme in A Horse and Two Goats. Muni is uneducated; he knows no English, the American knows no Tamil. But that does not prevent him from trying to buy the terracotta horse that is standing beside the highway. Muni is sitting on the pedestal beside the horse which to the American signifies ownership. The American does not pause to find out whether he can buy the horse.
On another level, the village life is a theme in A Horse and Two Goats. Kiritam is like any of the seven hundred villages in India. Most are poor and one pestilence can be all that stands between riches and poverty. Marriages were conducted when individuals were children. Muni confesses that he has beaten his wife couple of times when young, but now she has the upper hand. She has to feed him if he were to stay alive.
Muni is a poor villager whose sole wealth is his two goats and the hut in which he lives. All day long he lets his goats graze which he sits in the shade of a terracotta horse that stands beside the road. One day an American stops in front of him as he has run out of petrol. He spies the mud horse and as Muni sits by it assumes it belongs to him. The American wishes to buy the horse but Muni thinks he wants to buy the goats instead. The hundred rupees he is offering is more than he has ever dreamt of possessing and he hurries off with the money. But when he relates the story to his wife she will not believe him as the goats come back.
A Horse and Two Goats is a delightful story set in rural India. It is about a poor elderly villager who owns two scraggly goats and an American who is on a visit to India and wishes to buy a terracotta horse that stands on the roadside. Not knowing each other’s language is a handicap and Muni thinks he is being offered a hundred rupees for his goats. When he goes home with the money, his wife does not believe him especially when the goats arrive home on their own.
Related in third person narrative, this story is vintage Narayan. It is full gentle humour and he looks sympathetically at the lives of the poor rural Indians who live a hand to mouth existence. The clash of cultures comes when an American tourist who stops by wants to buy the mud horse placed on the roadside years ago. They do not speak each other’s languages but still try to do business.
The horse is a symbol for the village Kiritam. The horse was once handsome but now looks shabby and is unwanted. The same can be said about the village which is now poor and obscure.
Important vocabulary and expression
Woven through the story are interesting snippets about the ten avatars of the God Vishnu and village life.
Literary devices used with examples
Readers may initially feel that the American paying a hundred rupees for the horse while Muni thinks he has sold his goats is the climax. But Narayan has moved the climax further back to the point where the goats come back home and Muni’s wife thinks his story is not true.